SUNRISE, Fla. — The Capitals began Game 1 without, seemingly, many advantages over the Presidents' Trophy-winning Florida Panthers.
But with a mix of strong offensive play, good defense and timely saves, they won Game 1 at FLA Live Arena 4-2 and have a chance to take a commanding series lead over the league's best team in Game 2 on Thursday. Lars Eller's empty-net goal clinched the night.
Washington leads the series 1-0. Game 2 is scheduled for Thursday at 7:30pm.
Here are a few takeaways from Game 1:
Oshie lifts the Capitals
T.J. Oshie got a wonderful feed from Nicklas Backstrom and gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead with 10:37 left in the third period. From there, Washington and goalie Vitek Vanecek held on for the win.
Backstrom's pass split two Panthers defenders and found a streaking Oshie right in from of the Panthers' net. From there, he just redirected the puck past Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and put the Capitals ahead.
It was an ironic turn of events given the key narratives entering the series. It was the Capitals' offense that played the major factor in the end, not the NHL's top-scoring team. And Washington's defense and goaltending sealed the game
Kuznetsov ties it
The Capitals tied the game at 2-2 with a breakaway goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov 8:14 into the third period. The play was set up by a stellar poke check by Alex Ovechkin, who knocked the puck loose just outside the blueline and sprung Kuznetsov for the breakaway attempt.
The goal came right as the Panthers started to turn up the offensive pressure. Kuznetsov's brought the game back to even exactly when the Capitals needed it most. He's done it before.
Vanecek earns the nod in Game 1
The Capitals, after a few days of uncertainty, turned to Vanecek in net to start Game 1 against the high-flying Panthers.
Vanecek played well in his second-ever playoff start, stopping 30 of 32 Panthers' shots. In front of him, and the Capitals did their job to keep high-flying Florida in check as much as could be expected.
After Game 1, it's now a virtual certainty Vanecek will get the nod in Game 2.
Caps lose Wilson
Tom Wilson opened the scoring for the Capitals, but his presence wasn’t felt much longer after that.
He left in the first period, returned briefly to the bench, but didn’t take a shift. Then in the second period, he came back to take a short practice skate on the ice during a timeout but went immediately to the dressing room. He did not return after taking his brief twirl on the ice.
It was unclear what’s ailing him, but losing Wilson was one of the biggest blows the Capitals could have suffered in the injury department.
Capitals turn up the pressure
The Panthers opened the scoring just 43 seconds into the second period when Claude Giroux put a puck past Vanecek to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead. But from then on, the Capitals put a bevy of chances toward the Panthers' net only to either misfire or get stopped by a blocked shot or nice save by Bobrovsky, who stopped 34 of 37 Washington shots.
There were a few chances in the second period, notably on a good shift by defenseman Dmitry Orlov, who sent a wonderful pass across that didn't find the net, then nearly beat Bobrovsky a few seconds later.
The Capitals finally cashed in with the Kuznetsov tally to tie the game in the third period, which set up the exciting finish.
Early and late goals to start
The Capitals came out of the gates quickly and scored just 3:47 into the first period on a Wilson wrist shot. The goal was credited as a power-play tally, though it came almost simultaneously with the penalty time expiring.
Washington played a strong first period after that and created a few quality scoring chances, notably on the team’s third power play of the first frame. The Panthers held on, though, and just a handful of minutes later were rewarded for it with a Sam Bennett goal.
Bennett came into the zone and fired a shot from the slot that beat Vanecek and tied the game with 2:05 left in the first period.
All first-round games of Capitals vs. Panthers will be available regionally on NBC Sports Washington and streamed live on the MyTeams app.